Increasingly, the Muhammadu Buhari presidency is taking the shape of the last days of the Samuel Doe dictatorship in Liberia. Incidentally, Buhari and Doe had a lot in common. They shot themselves to the leadership of their countries at different times through coups. Doe, at a time, transited to civilian President and was eventually thrown out in controversial circumstances.
Buhari was eased out by his military colleagues in another coup but, later, came back through the ballot. Both came to office on the crest of popular public opinion, which, over time, they lost due to their poor performance records. In his last days in office, Doe saw any opinion critical of the actions of his government as an affront on the state. This is presently the pattern by the Buhari presidency. The only remarks the government welcomes now are those that humour it as the best thing to have happened to the country since the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates in 1914. Any contrary position is considered unpatriotic. Even those that had initially applauded the government or played key roles in bringing it to office are currently seen as enemies of the state for simply telling it that it has gone off the track.
Reverend Father Camillus Ejike Mbaka, the spiritual director of the Adoration Catholic Prayer Ministry, Enugu, who once claimed that God confided in him that Buhari was the man to take Nigeria out of its ugly past, is now at the receiving end of the government’s offensive. For telling the President that his administration has failed Nigerians, Mbaka is being scandalized as a sore loser trying to blackmail the government for turning down his demands for contracts. Now, whether the Reverend Father sought contract for himself or his friends is not the object of our interest. We are also not bothered with the government denying or acceding to his request, if he did. Why the transaction should be thrown up as basis for attacking him over his advice to the government is the issue.
Similar assault had earlier been directed at former President Olusegun Obasanjo and the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, Matthew Hassan Kukah. The attack on Kukah has been the most puerile. Each time he writes, Kukah is accused of criticising the government because he had been deprived of easy money with the coming of the Buhari government. But Obasanjo’s case is pathetic.
Here was somebody who literally went into the streets to ensure that Buhari was elected. To boost the President’s electoral chances in the build-up to the 2015 elections, Obasanjo publicly tore his Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) membership card and accorded Buhari elaborate reception in his Abeokuta country home. When the administration began to go astray, Obasanjo took to letter-writing to express his frustration and disappointment. In turn, attack dogs of the Presidency were unleashed on him with a reminder that he was among those that brought the country to its knees.
This, ordinarily, should not cause much concern. The government, through its media handlers, owes it to itself to fight back when it feels that it is being unjustly attacked by opponents and those it considers hard to please. It is when the defence is taken to the context of ‘us and them’ that problems arise. The Buhari presidency is in such panic mode, presently. Two immediate developments point to this. The recent alert by the Department of State Services (DSS) alleging sinister moves by unnamed “misguided elements to wreak havoc on the government, sovereignty and corporate existence of the country,” is one and, indeed, weighty. The amplification by the presidency that the scheme is being championed by some disgruntled religious and past political leaders whose intention is to eventually throw the country into crisis and compel a forceful and undemocratic change of leadership, is weightier. Both point to some heady days ahead.
Of course, we cannot claim to know as much as the government on issues of intelligence and national security. The first point is to state that anyone proven to be working to undermine the sovereignty of the state should be dealt with according to the law. The principle of inviolability of the state and its sovereignty as held in international law must at all times prevail.
But then, this calls for eternal vigilance by Nigerians before we all become victims. Dictatorial regimes all over the world are known for easily flaunting national security in going against critics and perceived opponents. African despots of old, such as Emperor Bedel Jean Bokasa (Central African Republic), Mobutu Seseseko (Zaire), Idi Amin Dada (Uganda), Gnassigbe Eyadema (Togo) and Doe (Liberia) were known to have flown charges of subversion against their opponents as a prelude to getting at them. Those that are still on the stage, Yoweri Museveni (Uganda), Faure Eyadema (Togo) and others in various parts of the continent also raise such alarms in silencing those opposed to their regimes. Scare-mongering is a common trait among dictators and administrations losing popular support.
The Buhari presidency is consistently losing the appeal and acclaim that earned it the support of Nigerians in 2015. At every turn, the government is getting it wrong. At home and abroad, its actions and inactions are manifestly giving the country the image of a failed state. A trending report by a non-governmental organisation, the Chandler Good Government Index (CGGI), which ranked Nigeria as the third worst governed country in the world, merely beating crisis-ridden Zimbabwe and Venezuela, is the lowest the country has gone under the current administration. Before the CGGI verdict, Nigeria had been judged the second most corrupt country in West Africa by another international group, Transparency International (TI). In similar downward trend, the country has for four years featured alongside Iraq and Afghanistan as the three most terrorised nations in the world. Back home, unemployment is literally running wild, hitting an unprecedented 33.3% from 27.1% recorded as of Q2 2020, indicating that about 23,187,389 (23.2 million) Nigerians remain unemployed.
These are statistics staring at the government, which the Presidency and its foot soldiers are not comfortable with. Dealing with the troubling situation is not something that can be achieved by the government baring its fangs against critics or engaging in rootless propaganda. A better approach is for the President to come down from his high horse and seek input from Nigerians beyond partisan considerations. Raising the alarm of suspicion by individuals to compromise the sovereignty of a country can only yield the desired results, if the government of the day is seen as being for the people. The Buhari presidency is currently low in the court of public opinion. In practical terms, it cannot be said to be for the people or with them. In common street lingo, it is on its own.
The administration may need other strategies, particularly in service delivery, to win back the people. It is high time the President and his team realised that winning the presidency is not a prize but a duty to be performed. And in this, propaganda by hired hands can only achieve a little. Performance record endures!